Frederick Woodruff woke up last Thursday to find that Twitter had wiped out a project he’s been working on for nearly twenty years.
“I went to do a post one morning and it was like, ‘your account is suspended,’” Woodruff says. He’s the creator of Lurid Digs, a website and later Twitter feed in which Frederick and his staff would find naked photos taken in garishly decorated homes, and critique the decor while ignoring the naked men.
“We’d do these Camille-Paglia-close-readings of the photos,” he said in a conversation with The Stranger last year. At the time, he was about to resurrect the project from hiatus.
But now, Twitter has definitively brought Lurid Digs to an end.
Woodruff can’t explain why Twitter deactivated his account. They provided no reason — just that it violated their policies. There was nudity, sure; but that’s not against the rules. And the critiques were never personal, he says: “A rule that I have for myself and anyone that does the critiques is, ‘you never go after the person.’ In all the years I did Lurid Digs, there was never a mention of the homeowner. … Always the focus was as if the person wasn’t in the room.”
Woodruff immediately appealed the suspension, but Twitter upheld the decision. He suspects that the review, if it was looked at by a human at all, was handled by a conservative Christian such as those featured in The Cleaners, a 2018 documentary about overseas content moderators.
Whether or not that hunch is true, Twitter has provided no further means of appealing the suspension or reaching anyone at the company. (Twitter’s press office did not respond to emails from The Stranger.) Twitter’s message to Woodruff made it clear that he is not allowed to create a new account.
With no apparent recourse, Woodruff has little option other than throwing up his hands in frustration.
“I thought, ‘this has had a good run,’” he says of Lurid Digs. “It’s done.”
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that now he has more time to devote to his pop-culture newsletter and an upcoming novel — a supernatural erotic gay thriller — and also on his work at The Bob Mizer Foundation, a nonprofit that preserves and celebrates the history of sexy queer physique photography.
But even that work is jeopardized by over censorious social media companies; YouTube recently deleted the Foundation’s YouTube channel with no explanation. Woodruff suspects it’s because a butt might’ve briefly appeared in some of the historical footage they posted.
“We appealed to YouTube,” he says. “They wouldn‘t even answer the emails and just shuttered the account.”
The black-boxiness of social media is an ongoing issue for many independent queer content creators, who are disproportionately affected by moderation policies. (YouTube flagged one of my own videos, a discussion of the 1968 drag documentary The Queen, as “advertiser unfriendly” without saying why, which makes my account ineligible for certain support programs that other creators receive.)
“It’s like we’re all being policed by a 1950s church scold,” Woodruff says. “I wonder what’s going to be left on the internet.”
There was a time, in the early 2000s, when creators had more ownership of their platforms; blogs and newsletters weren’t subject to contextless tech-company moderation. Lurid Digs began its life in that form, but audiences are less likely to browse blogs these days. Now, to be discovered, creators have to situate themselves on platforms owned by mega-corporations. And if they happen to run afoul of those corporations’ rules, they’re out of luck.
“I would give anything to have a real live human contact,” Woodruff says. It’s an ironic lament for someone whose work is so closely bound in real live human contact — much of his work these days surrounds the new Physique Pictorial, a quarterly print magazine containing contemporary erotic photography mixed with vintage images from the archives. Those, at least, aren’t subject to the whims of any anonymous moderator.
“We decided to keep it completely free of digital distribution,” Woodruff says.